A Parent Learns About MySpace

Like most parents these days, I know enough about technology to stay no more than five steps behind my teenage son.

Sure, I discussed with him the dangers of talking to strangers online, and yes, I limited his ability to instant message by putting the computer in a public spot in the house where my husband and I could stroll by and take a quick glance. And yes, I know what it means when he quickly types "POS" when we walk by -- that's "parent over shoulder" for those of you 10 steps behind.

But it wasn't until his high school sent home a letter warning parents about the dangers of social networking sites like MySpace.com, that I decided I'd better log on.

All this week, ABC News Radio is taking a close look at the popular and controversial Web site MySpace.com. You can hear these reports on your local ABC News Radio affiliate, check local listings.

A Warning to Parents

The letter said "inappropriate" photos and comments had been posted on the site. It went on to warn of the dangers of Internet predators, as well as the possibility that college admissions officers or potential employers could view kids' profiles.

The school was not banning kids from using the site -- legally it can't -- but rather offering up advice for parents so they could both be informed and guide their teens through the scary world of writing in a virtual public diary.

If you've been living under a rock or don't have a teenager, MySpace and sites like it are called "social networking spaces." They're user-generated; kids create the content.

They're given very simple tools to put up their name, address, things they like, things they don't like, music they listen to, basically the things that define them. That's called a personal profile.

From there, they invite other kids in to see their profile and chat online, and those friends invite others, and soon, your little social animal has more friends than you can invite to a Sweet 16 party.

The danger is that your child may not know who's coming to the party. Internet security expert Robin Raskin, known as the "Internet Mom," says kids are letting too much hang out in cyberspace.

"The interesting thing about the profiles is, kids usually do them after they're tired, after a busy day at school, after they're stressed, competitive, so everything's hanging out. Their hormones are raging. It's late at night and they put everything up there," she said.

Protecting Kids From Themselves

Some of it is true; some of it, shall we say, is embellished. Think of it as the days of bragging in the schoolyard. Kids today are bragging online. It's a virtual hangout, and when they're not talking face to face, it's a whole lot easier to boast about how much beer they drink, or how many times they've shoplifted or had sex, all in a bid to appear cooler.

When kids freely give out their personal info and post provocative pictures on their profile, that's when the predators start calling. Raskin says finding easy prey takes no time at all.

"I just want to look and say, 'Gee, who's out there that's 18, lives in Pennsylvania, goes to college, and is kinda loose about their name and address?' That would take me exactly 10 seconds."

Her advice for parents: "Go into these sites, register as a user -- this is not a closed world, you can go in. And once you're a registered user, you can see profiles, tell your children you're there."

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